Here’s the snapshot: I am nearing my apartment, moments away from having a piss myself emergency, stack of mail in one hand, leash in the other, my very excitable dog pulling me down the street while attached to that leash. I get out my keys and see a woman, a few yards away, approaching to get into the building. Even though my hands are full and I have to fumble to open the gate, I wait for her and let her in, because that’s the nice thing to do, because it’s polite. If this were me I would have been gratuitously thankful, “Oh my God thank you so much, you didn’t have to do that!” Like, overkill gracious. Really, all I require is a brusk thanks, but what does this woman do? She walks right by me, doesn’t say a word, and to top it all off, she brushes past me, like physically moves me out of the way, so that she can get to her destination faster. My rational mind just swallows this, feels like poopy-shit, and trudges to my apartment. But my insecure, self-conscious, and sensitive mind feels hurt! She wants to yell, “YOU’RE WELCOME!” She wants to throw a stick. But mostly, she wants to say, “WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME?! I’M A REALLY GREAT GIRL!” Fatal flaw that it is, I am overwrought with the need to be liked, and in general, care way too much what people think of me.
Where does this come from? I’m not really sure. It’s been with me since around Kindergarten. I have a vivid memory of being in my tap dance class, where we were paired up alphabetically. My partner, somehow, was also named Lauren Singer. (Yes, seriously, we ended up going to the same high school and even getting each other’s SAT scores, wtf?!) Well, this Lauren Singer decides that she doesn’t want to hold my hand. I am 5 and she is 4, and I am all like, “THE FUCK OTHER LAUREN SINGER? I CAME FIRST!” I probably didn’t phrase it in this way exactly, but that very early symbol of rejection has stuck with me, nearly 23 years later. Why didn’t Voldemort Lauren Singer want to be my friend? Why didn’t she want to hold my hand? What in the fuck kind of cooties did she think I had?
This aspect of my personality was one that I was able to hone by being a likable kid. I quit tap dance and joined little league instead. I learned a bunch of obnoxious songs and mastered the joys of hocking loogies. I wasn’t a bully, I knew how to share, blah blah blah. This stuck with me as I matured into an obnoxious adolescent and ultimately well-intentioned teenager. Basically, in retrospect, I was very much a Lindsay throughout my most prominent years.
All of this being said, I have never had to fight much to be liked. Friends have come easily to me. I am a non-intimidating teapot of a human being, so my threat-levels are low; I am a self-deprecating funny girl, and us gals have oodles of chums: we’re not trying to steal your lovers, we usually have snacks, we’re clever on the spot when you need some good cheering up, and we can rock a good theme party, so really, what’s not to love? Okay, I can be irritatingly snarky, I sometimes don’t know how to segue out of a sarcasm tangent, I have too many opinions about everything, I am a hapless gossip, and I will steal your pen. But, other than that, I’m a pretty okay lady.
What is this leading up to, you ask? Well, I guess it’s just I’ve felt pretty…disposable lately. And it’s not a feeling that I am taking too well. Justifiably, there are factors here that have explanations: first, I do tend to make things about me when they’re not necessarily about me. People are getting older, relationships are changing, folks are settling down into their romantic nests of never leaving the house to hang out with buddies, cliques form of their own accord, and I have been running around like a maniac for the last year. I guess I just have higher expectations of people than I should at this point in my life, and as I type out these words, I’m like fuck that, your expectations should be high, but I feel bummed out all the same. [I should also use this opportunity to make a small disclaimer, that there are people that have punctuated my life in ways that have ALWAYS made me feel loved, and who have ALWAYS been there for me. These people most definitely know who they are, and should know that these feels are in no way directed towards them. What’s more is that no one, even those that might happen upon this post who are guilty of falling off the communicado-train, should take this rant personally. I am a sensitive ball of mush, but I ain’t mad atcha. I just, you know, feel all the feelings.]
Anyway, I returned to Northampton, MA this summer for a three month stretch of time, mostly to make the most of my break from grad school and to be with my boyfriend, because long distance is the suck no matter how many tits you send through snapchat. For the most part, being back with him and getting to re-group from an incredibly challenging and soul-crushing academic year made everything worth it. I had a good job, I spent a lot of time writing, I self-published a book, I did a fair amount of traveling, I read for pleasure, enjoyed the beautiful outdoor landscape of New England, and basically, you know, just made the most of my summer. But my social life? It left a lot to be desired.
My boyfriend’s and my schedule were such that more often than not, much to our chagrin, we were like passing ships in the night. Four nights out of the week my schedule was 9-5, while his was 4-midnight. While it was hugely lame, I just figured that this would leave a lot of time for me to see my friends. What I learned instead was that my having being gone for the 9 months prior, meant that my relationships with people I had once held dear to me, would completely transform. What happened instead? Well, it wasn’t a total loss–I spent time with friends I had really only considered acquaintances before and let those relationships gel into more meaningful ones, I used my melancholy as a creative outlet, I organized a therapeutic writing group. I was productive as hell this summer; but for the most part, I was also fucking sad.
I feel like this is a sort of pathetic piece of writing. That it reads like something that needs validation–like I want you to tell me, “I LIKE YOU, LAUREN.” I recognize that, and yet it isn’t what I want, nor do I feel that way in sharing this. I guess, more than anything, I am using this as an opportunity to voice a discrepancy I have with myself, that as someone who needs a lot of attention, being put on the emotional back burner really sucked. I felt the nine months I had been gone hit me like a ton of bricks. I was out of the loop. Those people I had once considered my closest friends, people that I spent my year in Chicago bragging about, had disappeared on me. I spent a lot of time feeling like I was being stood up on prom night in the months I spent in Massachusetts. I’d wait by my phone and try to will it to do something, but it would just sit there, and eventually I’d cave and play as many games of Candy Crush as time would allow. The people in my life I had come to rely on as always being there, well, they suddenly weren’t.
With extra time on my hands and a lot of room to shit on myself for being a boring person, or a lame excuse for a pal, or the kind of superfluous entity that people just don’t really need around, I got depressed, as is wont to do. It wasn’t that people were actively avoiding me or that they didn’t want me hanging around then. It was just that my presence wasn’t missed, people weren’t hanging out among their everyday groups of chums and thinking to themselves, “Hey, Lauren is missing…” and if they were, they definitely weren’t inviting me to fill the void. I tried my best to take this in stride, be present in my relationship, and keep my shit together. But in most respects, I was holding in a lot of sad. I still am.
It’s the depressive periods of my life that have afforded me the most creativity, so I used this “feeling like a bag of hair” motif to do a lot of writing. Because I don’t necessarily have the time or resources to maintain a website, I often use Facebook as a platform to share my writing. One day I wrote this sort of declaration of my insipid-ness, an awkward girl’s diatribe on her existence. It received a lot of good feedback, it reified a little faith in myself that I had been lacking, and then, someone whose opinions I had always trusted, commented that it was like a MPDG manifesto. I’m still not sure if this was meant to be an insult (I asked but she never responded, so I’m thinking yes?), but it sunk me. Suddenly, I couldn’t see the positive feedback I was getting, and was consumed by this idea. Was this all I was? Just an expendable stock character in people’s lives, someone to bring whimsy to a situation with no actual substance? I spiraled down into a very adolescent train of thought and convinced myself this had to be true. How could it not be? There it was, the very words, staring back at me.
Fast forward a few weeks, and it’s my going away potluck. A lot of folks did end up showing to say their goodbyes, and I was touched. But for the most part, people really didn’t have a whole lot to say to me. I recall my boyfriend trying to cheer me up by saying, “Look at how many people came!” and in my petulance I responded, “Yeah but no one’s even talking to me. I probably don’t even have to be here. They just knew there’d be food.” The deck at my boyfriend’s house is full of my friends, but I am sitting in the center of it alone feeling like the biggest douche in the universe. Everyone seems to be having a good time, but I am holding back tears, unsure why I am so sad about leaving a place where very few people sought out my company in the first place. Perhaps the deviation of what I thought would be a place I could always go home to is the very thing that I am mourning. I am displaced, I do not belong here anymore. I said my goodbyes, people made promises to come see me off in the morning, Some of them did (oh man, those pancakes were good), but most of them did not. I left. It was unremarkable.
It has been two weeks since I’ve been back in Chicago. Those feelings haven’t gone away, I wish they had. I try to adjust back to my life here, but feel that things have shifted in the city as well. Those three months were a long three months, and relationships have changed here, too. I feel my own absence and it tugs at me. I learn that my friends celebrated a birthday without me, that they went out for a fancy dinner and it slipped their mind to call. Am I hurt? Yes. Is it their fault? No. It’s me. It’s that insecure 16 year old who doesn’t feel she has shaped her personality enough to be meaningful, who is terrified of being alone or forgotten. Who worries that her friends will give her something generic for her birthday, like body spray, because there are no unique aspects to her existence.
I am still waiting by the phone. I want my friends to say, “I love you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.” But it doesn’t happen. The dull ache of this loss is not something that will subside until I am able to see myself as someone who deserves to move on. It’s an exercise in self-love, and I know that and yet I give it to myself so rarely. From the outside looking in, I say to myself, “You are the kind of friend that I would want,” but is it true, or just something I say to keep the demons out?
Is is a constant struggle, this pursuit to treat myself well, to not have the tape on repeat that I am all the terrible things that years worth of convincing has lead me to believe. I war with words, knowing that this very thing that soothes me, writing, is a device unto its own, a gimmick. It is the only differentiation that sets me apart from any other over-indulgent depressive–it is my self-soothing tool. I say to myself, I will stop using Facebook, I will stop being in constant pursuit of approval, but…I need those likes as a measure of self-worth.
I don’t hate myself. I recognize myself as human. Deep down I am aware of this. I try not to get sucked in by jealousies and let the jabs at my tender psyche diffuse. I know that I am better for sharing these parts of myself than for letting them fester, know that deep in the throes of all my misgivings and tiny disasters, there is goodness, and that to the core, I do not wish ill on people I love, or anyone for that matter, and I do not live selfishly. But I want more for myself. I want the people I love to feel the swell of my absence and call me on it. I want to have a rich inner life of my own, and I do not want to be a non-essential character, or a status in a newsfeed that connects love and worth to thumbs up symbols. No more manic pixie dream girl.